ENN – Minced Words
July 17th, 2010

Posted by Jeremy

The feature story for this week’s ENN episode came, in a way, out of nowhere. The plan had been to shoot the story that will air next week–and indeed, we did shoot that story–but it was as Graham was settling into place in his tan blazer and feathered wig for the 80s section of this week’s Metal Gear story that it struck me that we hadn’t done anything about RealID–no doubt, the biggest story of the week. The concept emerged from my brain more-or-less fully-formed, encapsulated by the S.P.R.E.H. (Society for the Preservation and Research of Endangered Hatespeech) acronym. This is an idea that I knew Kathleen, at least, could get behind, but it turns out Graham and Paul liked it too.

That night on Wave, Kathleen and I (with some help from Graham) sat down and wrote the script. She proved far more capable than I of processing the idea of the hatespeech biosphere, though I was fascinated by the idea of Blizzard taking social networking to its obvious conclusion, and ran with that.

We enlisted John Funk from The Escapist as our Blizzard rep because he’s a cool guy, and we’d been thinking for a while abut enlisting the Escapist Staff as ENN characters. They have cameras and studio space of their own, after all, and really wanted to get involved. Also, Funk is a gigantic Blizzard nerd, so it seemed to make sense. They recorded his stuff in Durham, NC, and ferried it to us just in time for us to integrate it into our own material and ferry it back to them later that same day. The internet is magical, and I have no idea how we ever functioned without it.

I wanted to write an entertaining article for you about this episode, but it turned into more of a manifesto. It’s included after the break for anyone who feels it might be interesting.

This story actually got me thinking about why we care so much about hiding our love for video games. A lot of stink was raised over the idea that, under RealID, a person’s employer–or potential employer–might discover his or her clandestine WoW activities and be horrified by them, even though it’s probable that the same employer would encourage athletic gaming, and absolutely not care about boardgaming.

Granted, video games have a reputation for being time-wasters, but time is a fairly universal currency for all sorts of leisure activity. Video games are rarely allocated blocks of time like a baseball or Monopoly game, but neither are they malignant forces that expand to fill all time available, as some people seem to think they are. As I get older, my game time becomes ever stricter and more regimented, and high-level MMO play is, for many, just as much built into their routine as a morning jog.

Perhaps it is the activities that video games have come to represent, which are in many cases sociopathic forms of wish fulfillment, involving killing, maiming, screwing, and exploiting characters and systems in ways that we never would in real life. Heroes like Batman, Mal Reynolds, James Bond and Jack Bauer all exemplify a willingness to transgress social norms in order to solve problems in ways that most of us most of us wouldn’t. In a video game, we can live out the thrills of their adventurous lifestyles while our avatars suffer the consequences.

Whether we’re ashamed for not doing something more productive, for acting outside social norms, or simply because society tells us we should be, there’s little doubt in my mind that this shame exists. It’s the reason I snap off my PSP as soon as Tally walks in the door in the evening–she doesn’t care that I’m playing Metal Gear, but I somehow feel like I shouldn’t be. I think this is also why we gamers feel so threatened by “casuals”, who blithely go about building their farms and spamming our Facebook accounts without the slightest inclination that they could be doing anything wrong. Are we threatened by these people because we honestly fear that their games will overtake the multi-million-dollar blockbusters that we love, or is it more personal than that?

Are we, in fact, upset by the hypocrisy of a social group that had previously written off gamers as either friendless nerds or dangerous psychos deciding that video games are suddenly ok, now that they understand them? And if so, how much of this feeling is justified? In 2001, I wrote off the XBox as a system that wasn’t for “real gamers”, because it attracted so many of the jocks who beat me up in high school and made me feel like an outsider for being a gamer. What right did they have to suddenly start liking Halo and GTA after the misery they’d brought into my life over these very things?

I was not the only person who felt this way at the time, but it’s striking to me that the distinction between the “XBox frat-house gamer” and the “real gamer” of 2001 has all but disappeared in the last ten years. Sure, I can imagine those guys are all still gigantic douchebags on XBox Live, but they’re now an accepted part of our culture, just as their integration has made us a more accepted part of culture at large.

Anyway, that’s my theory. At this point, this blog post is three days late so I’m just going to leave it there… But that’s what this video made me think about. Tune in next week when ENN examines motion control, and the games it hath spawned.


13 Comments »

  1. Excellent observations, my good chap. Havent seen a post this long before, but its refreshing and I like it. You should make more of these!

    Comment by Aristes — July 17, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  2. Wow, what a great blog post. Glad I stuck around and read the whole thing. Excellent points, Jer. I hope you have the chance to write more blog posts like this in the future.

    Comment by JoshTheater — July 17, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

  3. The reason people don’t want their bosses seeing that they play WoW is that, from that point forward, every single mistake they make at work will be seen as a new opportunity to talk shit about the employee, or the employee’s hobbies.

    It also means that the employee will *never again* be able to get out of work. “So, Jenkins, I called you because we really needed you Saturday.” “Yeah, sorry, I had things I needed to do.” “Really? Because I could’ve sworn I saw you playing WoW.” – This is, of course, a double-standard, since any other team-based event would be seen as a valid reason not to show up for additional, unpaid labor, but a standard that exists nonetheless.

    Comment by RvLeshrac — July 17, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

  4. I think the more interesting question, however, is WHY this double standard exists. What I’m trying to say is the boss in this situation treats WoW differently from other forms of entertainment, even though he probably couldn’t tell you why. Ideas of wastefulness are built into the definition of video games in the minds of many people, though this definition is woefully out-of-date.

    Comment by Jeremy — July 18, 2010 @ 3:28 am

  5. I guess part of the double-standard of games as a time waster, is that bosses may well play something like Farmville, while still complaining about staff who play WoW (I know of someone in this situation…).
    The stigma of kids ‘wasting’ time in arcades is likely where it started. The jocks were playing sports, while we were in arcades, our leisure wasn’t productive, while theirs was somehow.
    People who game on facebook wouldn’t understand the opposition to this idea as in their domain, all of their game info is right there on their page. I game as an escape, so I don’t want people to be ‘liking’ the fact that I unlocked an achievement.
    I have lots of disjointed thoughts on this, so it’s really difficult to actually write a cohesive post…

    Comment by dls182 — July 18, 2010 @ 6:55 am

  6. Cool blog i enjoyed reading it, would love to see more like this in future!

    Comment by WeedyPirate — July 18, 2010 @ 7:00 am

  7. Two thoughts:
    1. “They recorded his stuff in Durham, NC, and ferried it to us.” Whoa, the BC ferry service must rock. The ferries in my town can only go from the mainland to Bainbridge Island and back.
    2. I’ve also seen video gaming becoming more mainstream. I remember starting a new job a few years ago and being pleasantly surprised at how many of my coworkers were gamers, including people in their 30s and 40s with kids and mortgages.

    Comment by Slack Mesa — July 18, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

  8. Wait, in Canada when your boss calls you and asks if you can come in for some extra work, you don’t get paid for it?

    Comment by JoshTheater — July 18, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  9. I don’t know if I’m lucky or just oblivious, but I don’t feel ashamed that I game. Maybe it’s just my upbringing or maybe it’s because I’ve been playing video games since before I can remember (seriously – I have a high score from an Atari 2600 game in my baby book). Video games have always been a part of my life serving as an escape. I play hack-and-slash at home when work is draining my brain and Civ 4 when work is too mindless.

    Now Magic the Gathering, *that* I feel embarrassed for having played. Same situation, different game. Maybe we need to form a support group.

    Comment by ecocd — July 19, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  10. My problem, and I would be confounded if I was the ONLY one, is that of an escapist. I game to get away from the world, I’ve always been bitter with reality.
    I spent the better part of grade school bantering about “What if ‘X’ Pokemon were real!? We could totally do ‘Y’!”
    (Seriously, how awesome would having a Rapidash have been? It could have taken you anywhere!)

    That kind of thinking obviously extends to my personal persona.
    “Why wasn’t I born in a world where I could be a Draenei Frost Fire Mage and go on epic quests to defeat great evils!?”

    All of that said my screen names are who I become when I step into that roll. I don’t want the people I’m playing with to think of the weak mundane socially anxious one with the keyboard. I’ll paint to them the picture of the “carefree ranger”, or the “sadistic/psychotic fire mage that likes to make sport of soloing elites and attempting instance content alone”.

    The internet in general is a place that is quickly becoming more concretely linked to real life and that bothers me. It’s images of the kind of Equilibrium Government control trampling in over freedom and emotions for a safer more structured world.

    One step at a time until we get there.

    Comment by FeyLynn — July 19, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

  11. I found what you said extremely interesting. you should see if the escapist would want you to wright a full length article on this subject.

    Comment by gnomebard — July 20, 2010 @ 12:36 am

  12. These are some really interesting observations. I watch my co-workers as they roll their eyes at the slightest mention of an RPG, and yet a few of them do Farmville and such.

    Part of it, I think, is that video games have become associated with youth. Because we were the first generation to grow up with home consoles and PC gaming, it’s only natural that we find no reason to give them up as we move into adulthood. However, many people still view it as something kids do because THEY didn’t have those opportunities as children. I think this is something that will change as we get older and start having kids of our own. Kids who will see their parents playing video games, with them, alone or with their friends.

    Comment by PaulaG — July 20, 2010 @ 9:40 am

  13. Part of it is that people don’t like what they don’t understand, I am sure.

    When I was in middle and high school, my dad was ambivalent towards video game playing and strongly against my playing of CCGs, of which Magic was the most played. Yet he strongly supported my brother playing hockey and my sister playing golf. This was demonstrated to the point that he confiscated my Magic cards when my grades slipped, but did not make my brother drop any sports when his slipped.

    Years later, he still has no grasp on games, but I do customer support for a game company and get paid to organize Magic events in my area, where my brother and sister’s sports gained them nothing.

    Basically, he did not understand me or what I liked, and still does not. I finally got him to accept my hobbies by monetizing them, but I have no idea how I would go about getting him to accept them if I would not have.

    What it comes down to is that people draw an arbitrary line between leisure activities they understand being acceptable and ones they don’t not being acceptable. It is fine to spend hundreds or thousands on fishing or hunting or golf or cycling, but not the same amount on CCGs, or video games, or RPGs, simply because the people making the judgments don’t understand them. Sadly, the people with this viewpoint are mostly unconvincable. If you try to compare what you do to something they do, they simply refuse to grasp the comparison, and belittle the things you do as unworthy.

    The best I have been able to come up with as a solution is to ignore them, engineer situations where you can avoid them, and let society deal with it. Eventually social games and the tide of home video game systems will sweep them up, or they will die, and things will change slowly.

    Comment by Rob — July 24, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

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